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Nursing Information Literacy Tutorial

Why Books?

If you want to learn about the life of a particular person, or the history/background of an issue or topic, a book can cover much more material than an article.  Some books collect important essays discussing many angles of a topic, and many books are written by scholars; however, books take time to research and write, so while books have in-depth coverage, they might not always have the most recent information. Books are a great source to get an overview of a topic.

Sometimes periodical articles are sufficient for a research paper, but often you will need to combine books with magazine and journal articles.  If your topic is not too recent or specialized, books might be a good option.  The large amount of periodicals published makes it more likely that you will find articles on very narrow subjects which might not be easy to find represented in books. 

Using Reference Information Sources

Reference information sources can be helpful when beginning the research process. They can give you a working knowledge of your chosen subject area.

  • You can gain a broad and general understanding of the topic, or background information.
  • You can learn the important names, key facts, issues and debates, and answers to questions.
  • You can get familiar with the vocabulary of the subject area so you can understand new terminology and formulate good keyword searches.


Dictionaries provide word definitions and other information about words. There are many other types of dictionaries. 

  • A bilingual dictionary translates from one language to another.
  • A thesaurus contains synonyms, and often antonyms, for words.
  • An etymological dictionary contains historical word origins.
  • A subject dictionary is a good source for longer and more in-depth definitions using the vocabulary of a particular area of study.

Biographical Resources

Biographical resources contain information about the lives and accomplishments of notable people in various fields of achievement or areas of study. 

Handbooks and Guides

Handbooks and Guides contain detailed, advanced information about a particular subject area. This can include facts about a subject or instructions for operating a device or completing a procedure.